Benton appointment shows cronyism is thriving in Clark County

The OlympianMay 8, 2013 

One can only marvel at the chutzpah of politicians who exploit fears of “big government” while submersing themselves neck-deep in the pork barrel. For example, Sen. Don Benton and his cronies on the Clark County Commission.

Looking more like a banana republic than a progressive metropolitan county, the two Republicans on Clark County’s three-member commission just appointed Benton, R-Vancouver, to a $100,000-plus job as director of environmental services. It’s a position for which he has no obvious qualifications.

They hired their pal Benton – both commissioners contributed to his senatorial campaign – without ever posting the job or interviewing any candidates.

A job description for the post says candidates must have “at least eight years of responsible management experience directing complex environmental-services functions and services,” and that the director “is responsible for strategically protecting and enhancing the county’s natural environment by maximizing the efficiency and transparency of government processes.”

So much for transparency in hiring.

Benton lists himself as the founder of his own advertising and marketing company — now being phased out — which does consulting for television stations and law firms. Before that, he worked as an insurance salesman.

As the Vancouver newspaper, The Columbian, put it, commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke “insulted their constituents by rushing to hire a political pal who lacks even the basic qualifications for one of the most important jobs in the county.”

Or, as The Seattle Times said, “Putting Sen. Don Benton in charge of environmental review is like using a paper shredder to edit a document.”

Benton’s contribution to the environment during the 2013 regular legislative session includes a conspiracy theory-based bill that links a 1992 United Nation’s agreement on sustainable development to local property rights. Even the Republican-controlled Senate’s Law and Justice committee refused to pass the measure.

Do Clark County Commissioners want to be known for blatant cronyism and organizational mismanagement? It certainly looks that way.

Benton’s main qualifications for the job appear to be his vocal opposition to the Columbia River Crossing — and in his new post he will have review authority over permits required for its construction — and the likelihood he’ll transform the county’s environmental services department from what the commissioners regard as a “job-killing bureaucracy.”

This is a man booted out as chairman of the state Republican Party for how he handled party finances and ranks near the bottom of state legislators for poor attendance. He barely held on to his legislative seat last fall with a 74-vote margin.

There’s no other word for Benton’s appointment than “cronyism,” and we can’t imagine Clark County voters standing for such insolent county mismanagement. Madore was elected last fall and won’t face voters again for four years. However, Mielke’s term expires this year.

Good time to send a message.

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